Elder Government

When it comes to church leadership there is a great deal of confusion.  To help folks understand where we are coming from practically speaking when it comes to how our church leadership (at the highest level of our pastoral team of elders) operates we have prepared this page for you to read.  In a nutshell, we believe the pastors or elders are the leaders of the church as appointed by the congregation, who voluntarily submit to their leadership for the benefit of their souls (see Hebrews 13:17).  Now, how the eldership work together in leadership is what this page aims to briefly unpack for the reader.  


Rather than reinventing the wheel, this page is essentially a ‘cut-and-paste’ from a lecture that Pastor Mark Driscoll of the Acts 29 Network gave to a bunch of church planters in 2006.  This lecture captures some of the basics of leadership that we strive for and what we affirm as a biblical approach to church leadership.    



Establishing Elder Government in a Church Plant
Tuesday, January 10, 2006
Acts 29 Regional [NW]
Taught by Pastor Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church



The key to ecclesiology is proper theology. Simply, if the person and ongoing work of Jesus is not exceptionally clear and practically integrated in the church then eventually the church will become very sick. Jesus Christ is the apostle who plants a church (Hebrews 3:1), the senior pastor who leads the church (1 Peter 5:4), and the head of the church (Colossians 1:4; 2:10, 19) who grows and builds a church (Matthew 16:18) or shuts it down for becoming faithless and/or fruitless (Revelation 2:5). Additionally, it is the Holy Spirit who convicts people in the church of sin, gifts them for service, empowers them for fruitfulness, and selects the elders who are to lead the church.


Part 1 - The Dude

Even a cursory reading of the Bible reveals that when God wants to get something done He starts by selecting a dude to lead that change and works through that dude. Examples include sparing humanity (Noah), founding a nation (Abraham), liberating a nation (Moses), establishing a throne (David), building a temple (Solomon), preparing hearts (John the Baptizer), reaching Gentiles (Paul), and redeeming creation (Jesus). Therefore, a church cannot be successfully planted and expect to survive if it is not led by a dude who obediently follows God as He speaks through Scripture and leads through the Spirit. Therefore, in addition to meeting the requirements of an elder, there are additional responsibilities that a church planter must be willing to embrace and execute if he hopes to be the dude. They include the following:

  • Gifts as apostle, leader, evangelist, and teacher
  • Life of passionately following Jesus that is worth following (1 Corinthians 11:1) and imitating (Hebrews 13:7)
  • Ability to pull the church toward God's mission with the strength of an ox (1 Timothy 5:17-18)
  • Fight for the purity of the church with the toughness of a warrior (2 Timothy 2:3-4)
  • Live a life of discipline so that he can compete with the skill of an athlete (2 Timothy 2:5)
  • Work tirelessly like a farmer who is up before the sun doing his job every day (2 Timothy 2:6)


Part 2 - The Other Dudes

Principle #1 - Jesus Christ is the senior pastor and head of the church. Therefore, church leaders must be fully devoted followers of Jesus before they are qualified to lead anyone else in following Jesus.

Principle #2 - God intends for the church to be comprised of three levels of human leadership: elders, deacons, and members (e.g., Philippians 1:1). Elders primarily prepare the deacons and members to do ministry through their leadership, oversight, and teaching (e.g., Ephesians 4:11-16).

Principle #3 - Words such as "elder," "bishop," and "pastor" all describe the varying aspects of a pastor's role in Scripture (Acts 20:28; Ephesians 4:11; 1 Peter 5:2).

Principle #4 - The lead pastor who founds the church must function as the solo elder until a plurality of elders can be established.

Principle #5 - Until a team of elders can be established the lead pastor should have an advisory counsel of seasoned pastors who are available to give him counsel when needed and support if a church discipline issue should arise.

Principle #6 - Before establishing an elder team the lead elder must answer three key questions:

  • What is the elder team's primary purpose?
  • What are the minimum qualifications?
  • How should the lead elder guard the gate into eldership?

Principle #7 - The process of becoming an elder in a church plant should take a few years and include the following elements:

  • The man must have been faithfully involved in the church for at least a year so that he is known.
  • The man must have proven himself loyal, mature, theologically astute, teachable, generous with his service of others, and generous with his financial giving to even be considered.
  • The man must already be doing some pastoral work in the church with people looking to him for leadership not because he holds an official position but rather because he naturally leads through holiness and gifting.
  • The man must be a functional fit in ministry philosophy, personal style, and relational connection with the lead pastor and any other potential elders.
  • The man must desire to be an elder and make his desire known to the lead elder.
  • The lead elder must interview him and his wife to see if they qualify for elder training.
  • The lead pastor must be able to consider the candidate a peer, someone he wants his sons to be like and his daughters to marry, with a marriage and family that he wants replicated throughout the church.
  • The lead elder must provide a six-month to one-year formal training process that includes leadership, teaching, reading, homework, etc., to test and approve the elder candidate.
  • If an elder candidate passes the testing and training period he should be brought before the church body and introduced. The church should have a few weeks to ask him any questions and raise any concerns to the lead pastor.
  • If the elder candidate is found worthy of the position, he and his family should be brought before the church and installed with the laying on of hands.
  • Once someone is appointed as an elder/pastor they should be referred to with their title to preserve the respect of the man and the office. The lead pastor should set that example.

Principle #8 - Elders must lead the church and never represent factions, agendas, or disgruntled or pushy people within the church.

Principle #9 - There are three types of leaders:

  1. Opportunity Seekers are continually seeking new opportunities and are highly motivated by change and growth.
  2. Goal Setters make plans and break projects into phases to ensure chaos is managed so that success is achieved.
  3. Problem Solvers continually seek potential problems and needs so that barriers to success can be proactively identified and removed.


Part 3 - Marks of a Dude (1 Timothy 3:1-7)
For further study on this subject, please read Alexander Strauch's Biblical Eldership.

  1. Relation to God
    • A man - masculine leader
    • Above reproach - without any character defect
    • Able to teach - effective Bible communicator
    • Not a new convert - mature Christian
  2. Relation to Family
    • Husband of one wife - one-woman man, sexually pure
    • Has obedient children - successful father
    • Manages family well - provides for, leads, organizes, loves
  3. Relation to Self
    • Temperate - mentally and emotionally stable
    • Self-controlled - disciplined life of sound decision-making
    • Not given to drunkenness - without addictions
    • Not a lover of money - financially content and upright
  4. Relation to Others
  5. Respectable - worth following and imitating
  6. Hospitable - welcomes strangers, especially non-Christians for evangelism
  7. Not violent - even-tempered
  8. Gentle - kind, gracious, loving
  9. Not contentious - peaceable, not quarrelsome/divisive
  10. Good reputation with outsiders - respected by non-Christians


Part 4 - Dude Duties
For further study on this subject, please read Alexander Strauch's Biblical Eldership.

The duties of the elders are many according to Scripture and include the following:

  • Prayer and Scripture study (Acts 6:4)
  • Ruling/leading the church (1 Timothy 5:17)
  • Managing the church (1 Timothy 3:4-5)
  • Caring for people in the church (1 Peter 5:2-5)
  • Giving account to God for the church (Hebrews 13:17)
  • Living exemplary lives (Hebrews 13:7)
  • Rightly using the authority God has given them (Acts 20:28)
  • Teaching the Bible correctly (Ephesians 4:11; 1 Timothy 3:2)
  • Preaching (1 Timothy 5:17)
  • Praying for the sick (James 5:13-15)
  • Teaching sound doctrine and refuting false teachings (Titus 1:9)
  • Working hard (1 Thessalonians 5:12)
  • Rightly using money and power (1 Peter 5:1-3)
  • Protecting the church from false teachers (Acts 20:17-31)
  • Disciplining unrepentant Christians (Matthew 18:15-17)


Part 5 - Herding the Dudes
For more study on this topic, please read Larry Osborne's The Unity Factor.

Principle #1 - Elder unity should be a priority for the following reasons:

  • Jesus prayed for it often
  • As leadership goes so goes the rest of the church
  • Without unity, spiritual growth cannot be maintained
  • Unity is fragile and can be quickly lost
  • Paul commands it in the church (e.g., 1 Corinthians 1:10; 2 Corinthians 13:11; Ephesians 4:3; Philippians 1:27)

Principle #2 - The lead elder must define unity in the following aspects:

  • Theological agreement on what will and won't be fought over
  • Relational warmth and sincere friendships
  • Philosophical oneness and agreement on ministry methods
  • Missional partnership to stay on task

Principle #3 - Spiritual obstacles to unity must be identified and removed.

  • Pride/sin (e.g., bitterness, jealousy)
  • Heresy, including legalism
  • Distrust and faithlessness

Principle #4 - Sociological obstacles to unity must be identified and removed.

  • Meeting in a location that is corporate and formal instead of familial and informal
  • Focusing on business at the expense of relationships
  • Not scheduling one or two all-day retreats each year
  • Not taking time before or during a meeting to eat together
  • Infrequent meetings which hurts cohesiveness
  • A lack of mutual respect and trust
  • No monthly "shepherding" meeting for training without business decision-making
  • Meetings that are too long, often because of infrequency
  • Constant turnover (e.g., terms)
  • Not correcting or removing troublesome leaders

Principle #5 - Elder teams tend toward either suspicion or trust and someone who is a watch dog, foot-dragger, meeting-misser, micromanager, or extreme detail-nut will become a bottleneck and cause the team to lose both their joy and mission.

Principle #6 - The lead elder is primarily responsible for building his team by practicing the following kinds of protocol:

  • Sending out an agenda before the meeting so that everyone else is aware of the issues to be discussed
  • Closing the gap between himself and his elders by respectfully training them so that they understand his theology, vision, language, etc.
  • Bringing drafts, not final proposals, to be considered and altered
  • Keeping no secrets from the board
  • Submitting to the board's authority
  • Having another elder and his wife in a role as pastor and accountability partner with himself and his wife
  • Being generous with meals, books, conferences, and other resources to build up the other elders and their marriages and families
  • Not acting like a domineering dictator

Principle #7 - Every elder team needs a monthly meeting for prayer, training, and friendship that does not include minutes, business, voting, formality, or a tight schedule. The team should be able to pray for people in the church with candor and confidentiality.

Principle #8 - Care for the elders' families by allowing the children to play together and wives to meet together for love, prayer, friendship, and accountability in a safe situation where they can be honest with one another.

Principle #9 - Know what game you are playing:

  • Church leader as a solo pastor is a decathlete generalist who does many duties and is skilled at none of them
  • Church leaders as two or three golfing buddies where a small team meets informally and closely works through issues together
  • Church leaders as a basketball team of four to eight players where the lead pastor functions as the point guard, still setting up every play and all the pastors still playing as generalists on both offense and defense
  • Church leaders as a football team where the elders function as different teams that don't really interact much and each have different specialties and coaches under the lead pastor/head coach
  • If you don't know your game, you will crush the lead pastor as he is kept responsible to be relationally close to all of the other elders and help lead all of the areas of the church

Principle #10 - Know when your game is changing:

  • The leadership team grows
  • Miscommunication increases
    • 2 People = 2 lines of communication
    • 3 People = 6 lines of communication
    • 4 People = 12 lines of communication
    • 6 People = 30 lines of communication
  • Leaders complain they are out of the information loop
  • Conflict arises over who makes what decisions

Principle #11 - Know your options when your game is changing:

  • Accept the new game and play it
  • Play the new game by the old rules until a crisis or serious conflict arises and the group shrinks back to a comfortable size and the church is limited in its size and efficiency by the bottleneck at the elder level

Principle #12 - Divide decision-making.

  • Day-to-day decisions must be pushed out to the front lines
  • Detailed decisions over areas of ministry need to be made by elder teams overseeing those areas (e.g., small groups, biblical counseling, marriage and family) and not the whole elder team
  • Decisions about direction and vision need to be made by an ever-narrowing group of primary leaders
  • Without this, tragedy eventually occurs:
    • Relation overload
    • Jockeying for power
    • Bogging down
    • A fight to be heard
    • Burnout
    • Increasing number of things falling through the cracks

*For further reading see Biblical Eldership by Alexander Strauch, Nine Marks of a Healthy Church by Mark Dever, and Elders and Leaders by Gene Getz